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Tuesday, 24 February 2015
Page: 1094

Rail Infrastructure

Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (14:19): My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development. Minister, do you agree that a high-speed rail passenger network connecting Melbourne to Brisbane with a station at Wodonga in Indi will transform regional Australia? Minister, what are you doing to progress this project and the recommendations of the 2013 High Speed Rail Advisory Group?

Mr TRUSS (Wide BayDeputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development) (14:19): I thank the honourable member for her question. There is no doubt at all that a high-speed rail line would transform regional Australia and of course also the transport network between our capital cities. As we look forward to the future, we need to examine the role that each mode of transport can play in our future transport needs, and that will be a major challenge.

As the honourable member will be aware, the phase 2 study of the inland rail project identified that the project was feasible but that it would have very substantial costs. Their estimate was about $114 billion, in 2013 numbers; and clearly that number is going to continue to go up as time goes by. They also suggested that an appropriate time frame in which to build this project would be between 2027 and 2065. It is a very big project and would require major effort. When this government came to office, I wrote to the states, following the phase 2 study, and asked them to engage in discussions in relation to the acquisition or reservation of the corridor.

Mr Albanese interjecting

The SPEAKER: Member for Grayndler! You will desist or leave.

Mr TRUSS: There are many thousands of properties that would have to be resumed or reserved for this purpose. They are in urban areas; they are in rural areas; they are in national parks, and all sorts of sensitive areas. Clearly we need to be working on that kind of thing early in the piece. The states, to be fair, have not shown a great deal of enthusiasm to engage in that process. I can appreciate the very difficult and practical challenges that are faced in that regard.

The key issue is clearly going to be funding a project of this nature. We are looking at innovative ways in which it might be possible to fund a project of that size. I have had many offers from international companies to build the project but no-one has come offering the money. In view of the fact that we are heavily focused on paying off the debt left to us by Labor and paying the interest on that bill, it is much more difficult to go out and borrow money of that magnitude. But the honourable member for Bennelong and his committee have been doing work on innovative funding proposals, including value capture and the like, and that is an all-important part of building a case and establishing the practicality of building a project of this magnitude.

So we are progressing the study, looking at what the options might be and, hopefully, coming to a position with cooperation between the states and the territories so there can be a definite decision made to take the next steps towards a project of this nature. But, clearly, we need to be sure that it is economically viable. There are engineering and environmental challenges and we will work constructively to achieve solutions to those issues.